Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Koha Development

While in Germany I managed to get my head around something which has become increasingly apparent as I am touring around.

I think we are developing a whole bunch of different versions of Koha, essentially forks I guess, and I am feeling uncomfortable about this because I don't think it's the way to go. I think the whole world benefits if everyone shares their development efforts with everyone else. That is the essence of Koha.

What I am seeing is some vendors, developers and libraries carrying out development in isolation from the main Koha trunk. This means we end up with customised local versions, forks, which means that for every upgrade forever those customisations have to be folded in.

Are you really that special?

I think we have to be wary of the tyranny of small differences. Koha is a global product and many thousands of librarians use it very happily every day right around the globe. Probably 90% of what we do is pretty standard. Are your customisations / quirks really necessary? Librarians are terrible at getting angst ridden about tiny peculiarities and I think we should also be asking ourselves: "really - are we that unique or special?". If we used a proprietary system we would just adjust our processes to suit.

So you want to change something pretty major

The development community is really generous and open for everyone to participate in. The process goes something like this:

Say you have an idea for an enhancement or a bug fix then the first step is to log a bug. There might be a bunch of bugs all related or about the same thing and they could all be addressed together.

You could also run the idea through the discussion list for feedback but the bugzilla is the right place. If you have the coolest idea for a major enhancement then issuing a RFC (request for comment) is the right way. Write your proposal, identifying the problem and proposed solution. What will happen is that a whole bunch of developers will toss your idea around and - what usually happens - is the optimum solution is developed by a bunch of brains.

 Then development can get underway; you might do the work yourself or someone might help but either way that starts the process for ensuring that the enhancement or development gets folded into the main codebase. This means that every upgrade in future needs to not break that piece of work.

Now not every bit of work will get folded in of course but if your enhancement is cool then wouldn't you want to make sure it has a life going forward and wouldn't you want to make the world a better place by sharing it?

There is real danger in having a myriad of Koha forks which while they start off as minor variations are at risk of evolving into effectively proprietary Koha forks. If this happens then we all lose the benefits of shared development and the very essence of Koha itself. There is so much development 'brain power' globally being put into Koha that I would really like to see it harnessed to work together so that we all benefit.


There is something crazy about walking into an arrivals hall at an international airport and just standing there until someone yells out your name, swamps you in a hug (sometimes a more manly greeting) then takes your bag and leads you out into a new city but that is exactly what I am doing. When I arrived at Berlin I texted Mirko from the baggage area: "I don't know what you look like dude!" - and I really need not have worried because it all worked out. In fact, everything worked out with Mirko.

The Koha gathering was terrific, about 20 people and a lovely evening meal afterwards - and a few beers - with these lovely gents who work with Mirko in the shared working space. Mirko had the biggest steak I have ever seen and was still smiling 3 days later :)

Mirko is frantically busy doing Koha-coolness in Berlin but made the time to escort me to my hotel, arm me with a magic train ticket that took me everywhere, then left me to get on and explore. He was at the end of a phone - and I contacted him many times - and we managed to squeeze in a terrific day sightseeing. It was so much fun!

We visited Charlottenberg, home of the Hapsburgs and of the most astounding silver collection in the world - even better than the one at Sisi Apartments in Vienna! We were first there and so entering the ballrooms etc and seeing them devoid of tourists was pretty special.

We got rained out briefly and had a cup of tea in a crazy Russian teahouse packed to the gunnels with stuff and then did a 4 hour river cruise up to the City Centre and back down again.

My last day I spent wandering around the Museum quarter spending most of my time at the Musuem of German History which was great! It positioned german history within the European context and commenced with a 43 minute film telling the story illustrated with objects that were in the museum.

I was surprised at how honest the German storytelling was particularly in relation to the World Wars.

What I particularly liked was the context given to the commencement of both World Wars, how they were both a long time in the making and just chapters in the bigger story of German expansionism, the hardships endured by Germany following the Versailles Settlement and Nazio Germany. It wasn't told in a 'poor us' way - or in a glorification of the Reich way - just like everything else it is in a factual way with great items illustrating the story. This was a highlight of my Berlin trip.

Oh and the architecture ... and the bread  (Berlin had the most AMAZING bread and salads)

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Sisi Museum
I flew to Vienna from Prague and spent 2 days incognito enjoying the city and walking myself stupid trying to fit too much in. I don't know how people do these continental tours in 35 days with a day in each place - madness. It's bad enough I seldom know what day of the week it is.

I visited Schonbrunn Palace and Sisi Museum on the first day. Schonbrunn, a former Imperial country residence, was one of the most glorious palaces of the Habsburgs. It was developed by Prince Eugene of Savoy and became the largest country palace estate under the reign of the Empress Maria Theresia. It was occupied by Franz Josef and, intermittently between jaunts, his wife Elizabeth aka Sisi. Gorgeous interiors, magnificent artwork and interesting displays. The key to visiting a city is mastering the underground as quickly as possible I feel. It opens up so many more opportunities for getting about.

I spent the afternoon at the Sisi Museum - which was great - but the astounding thing was the silver collection. OMG - such an array of crockery and silver and cutlery and glassware and table centrepieces - it went on and on and on. Well worth  the visit.

In the evening I had a quick drink with Marton Vilanyi host in Vienna. I think he might have worried that he was neglecting his host duties but he certainly made up for it later! Marton escorted me through the subway to the Bristol Hotel for a fab dinner before I headed off to a Mozart performance - in costume - in the most stupendously golden opera hall I have seen before - books included!

The next day was the Upper Belevedere art collection. What can I say - it was the best collection with all my favourite artists but also ones I'd never heard of. The medieval collection was incredible - so vibrant and well cared for and displayed beautifully. Stunning building too - but the art ..........

As I was walking the collection I was chatting on facebook to my sister in NZ who had visited a year previously. There was something surreal when she asked had I seen Napoleon and his horse yet, just I had sat myself down to gaze at this wonderful painting which I had studied at University in 1981. It was so instant and immediate and we were discussing a piece of art from opposite sides of the world. Technology aye; I might be travelling alone but absolutely not alone or lonely.

I lost my Uber virginity in Vienna. I had been too scared in NZ to try it but when Marton had suggested I catch a gazillion trains and buses to get IST, my response was 'blow this'. My bag weighs a ton which may or not have something to do with the litre of duty free Jameson I am struggling to drink on my own, I don't know the way and while it turned out to be easy on hindsight I just wasn't keen. A nice man in a Mercedes got me there in less than a hour for a very reasonable price.

The library team from IST: L-R: Marton, me,
Patrick, Rodrigo and Barbara.
The world is a very small place. Here I am in the middle of rural Vienna and I come face to face with someone I knew. "Have we met" I asked, "I don't think so - my name is Patrick". "Danowski" We had met before, when we were both presenters at the Bridging Worlds Conference in Singapore in 2008.

I stayed at the guest quarters on campus - very much like a hotel room except everything was ultra modern and I couldn't turn lights on, get the TV going or dispense soap. It was very comfortable but I did feel a bit like I was in a star trek movie.

Don't be misled by the lack of glasses on the table.
The next day, after a campus tour and a chat with the library staff of 5, we all left for Vienna where I presented at the Vienna Users Group meeting. What a great group of lovely people. It really was so friendly and great questions and discussions followed.

And they are not quite as sweet and harmless as they look
We repaired to a wine bar where we drank 'new wine' which is very seasonal - like half way between juice and wine - and then more wine and then more wine and then some schnapps. I wandered off home in a taxi at 10am but I hear some stayed on until 2am ... lord knows how. The only exciting moment was waking up in the middle of a forested countryside in very steep hilly country and knowing with every fibre of my being, having travelled the route twice, that things were not right. "Are we lost" I asked accusingly?  vague head nods then hand gestures then "sorry". "Best we turn on the GPS then lad" was all I could offer before snoring off again. Anyway with profuse apologies he eventually delivered me safely back to IST and I collapsed into bed absolutely done in by the Vienna hospitality.

A very gentle start to the next day, a quiet uber to the airport and an early night to start my Berlin visit.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Czech Republic

Czech Republic .............. it has captured my heart - not the crazy tourist-packed Charles Bridge / Prague Castle / Old Town part (although I loved that too) but the real Czech which my host, Bohdan Smilauer, shared with me.

I was met at the airport by a perfect stranger but with my name on a card and with a huge smile and a wave: we hit it off immediately. Bohdan took me home to meet his daughter and wife (a domestic goddess who made the most amazing meal plus sent me on my way with food for a week).

I was blessed to be staying in Bohdan's ancestral summer home, a gorgeous old villa in Vsenory surrounded by an ancient orchard, perfectly manicured lawns and the Prague forest to the back doorstep. It was so peaceful and relaxing and only about 20 km from Prague. I learnt to use the trains and Bohdan had a full programme beautifully planned - although room expanded to take in a lovely surprise.

Ceska Trebova

Bohdan took me to meet Mike Denar and his colleagues at Ceska Trebova; a small town about the same size as Levin. It was a lovely visit and Mike and Joseph Morovec were great to talk to about Koha. They are librarians who have installed and configured it themselves, did most of the translation and were really interesting to talk with. Vufind is used widely as the opac interface in Cesko which I found interesting and don't really understand.

The library had some great built in furniture - the periodical displays but also the wall unit in the teen space - beautifully modelled by Joseph on the right.

Mike travelled with us up to Olomouc for a presentation at the University there where we met other librarians and a young* developer, Radek Siman, who kindly drove Bohdan and I back to Prague.

Nothing to see in Ceska Trebova
- apparently - just the oldest
Romanesque Church in Morovia.


After our extremely long day travelling from Prague to Olomouc and back, Friday was going to be restful. Huh! No..

In the afternoon I spoke at a great gathering at the Agricultural library in Prague. There was a good turnout of librarians and good discussion afterwards - and beer. Have I talked about Czech and their beer yet? They drink it by the bucketful; even really nice looking ladies who you would expect to be drinking Pimms swig away on great handles of the stuff. Its delicious - don't get me wrong - but they sure are big servings!

After a quiet few ales (large) and a meal (also large) in Prague, Bohdan had a lovely surprise for me. Karel Matejka (extreme left beside Bohdan) had invited us visit a weekend school for distance education librarians in the countryside about 30 mins from Vsenory. Like real countryside - deers running across the road on the way back - countryside. It was wonderful. The school was held in a semi-restored farmhouse first reported in the 1500s.  There was a keg, of beer, bbq and a fire. The nightime lecture was projected up onto the outside wall of the farmhouse. So, another late night and a belly full of beer - not that I am complaining but it was a lot of beer.


A recurring theme in every country I have visited so far is the matter of 'sharks' - Koha vendors who are overcharging and not contributing their developments back to community. It also means that every upgrade those enhancements which have not been incorporated back into the main trunk are broken; and the work has to be done again so the sharks charge again etc. 

There is real concern that this will give Koha a bad name and I understand the concern.  This is the stunt that PTFS LibLime pulled in the States and they won't be the first or last. I don't know what the answer is but I guess education is one step. My presentation talks about the important role of the vendors in helping build a strong community. We all want many vendors around the globe running successful support services for Koha. That is a good thing. What we also want is for those vendors to be good Koha community members as well and contribute back to the project in the spirit of open source and in keeping with the name: Koha. This is a reciprocal gift: sure you can have the code for free - but please share back by contributing to development planning and incorporation of enhancements. It is up to Librarians to insist that their vendors keep to the open source spirit and not play the old 'bait and switch' game where libraries think they buying into open source Koha but end up getting a proprietary setup.

*Correction: He's not so young at all, it turns out, has obviously led a charmed life!


How a Kiwi can get to my age and have never made it to London before is beyond believe but there you have it.


I got to try out my new Koha Coat!
I stayed with my good mates Marty Pitt and Teresa O'Sullivan along with their adorable daughter Izzie who refused to give me a hug even after I left her a copy of Hairy McLary! Marty used to work at the Library many many years ago as an after-school student, along with Darren, who I also managed to catch up with while in London.

I was in London for the weekend and the Monday so we crammed as much into the time as we had. We visited the Tate Modern, Tate Britain (breathtaking), the British Museum, Victoria and Albert plus Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, St Martins Square, Bloomsbury St, Bedford Sq, Belgravia and the West End and lord knows what else. Talk about a whistle stop tour! I seriously underestimated the time I would need to 'do' London!


Sutton Hoo helmet at British Museum.
Nothing about Koha but a highlight of my visit.
I was sponsored for my London presentation by PTFS Europe and Catalsyt IT Europe which was such a delight. This aspect of vendors working in 'co-opetition' (cooperation and competition)  is one of the aspects of the Koha community which I really like.

PTFS  Europe are the 'good guys' and work very closely with the Koha community making significant contributions. A few PTFS clients were in attendance which was really nice but a highlight for me was meeting these good folk in person; people I knew only as names on mailing lists and irc meetings were now being met in the flesh.

It was small meeting in London being the first day back after the holidays but I thought it was very good. This tour is about meeting Koha community members as much as it is about the community and encouraging developers and librarians from every nation to get actively involved.

Friday, September 2, 2016


India - man I love this place! It is so full on and vibrant and energetic and busy and colourful and smells gorgeous and the people are great, so yeah, fabulous 3rd stop on my world tour.

My Indian hosts, Vikram Zadgaonkar, Ketan Kulkarni from First Ray Consulting and Kirti Bandekar from Libserve really pushed out all the stops including meeting me in the middle of the night plus a long wait while I sorted out where in the world my luggage might be because it certainly wasn't in Mumbai with me! 

First up was a guest speaker slot at User group meeting at the Nehru Centre, Mumbai with the gorgeous (in every way) Arati Desai who was as elegant and graceful as I was not - in my trainers and travel garb. Whats not to love when someone introduces themself as the world's biggest koha fan? Actually, come to think of it, that was a common theme throughout Malaysia and India. People felt so happy and proud to be running Koha.

The Pune Public Library is a case in point. 168 yrs old - the oldest
public library in Pune and run by a board of Trustees who are nothing short of inspirational. Mostly older in age, mostly retired professionals and all absolutely bursting with pride at their fab library in inner city Pune and that they were running Koha. The visit was arranged at very short notice but there was nothing short in the hospitality. I particularly loved the paintings of freedom fighters lining the walls.

I visited Pune University twice; once to speak at the Pune User group and once to speak with the library masters students (see earlier post). Meeting Shubhada Nagarkar, Assistant Professor, will be a highlight of my tour I think.

As well as discussing library stuff (really good library stuff) she snuck me away for a tour of the library which houses 5m items classified using Ranganathan's colon system and stretching back hundreds of years. I got to see a ancient manuscript written on palm - so beautiful - plus a whole bunch of other precious and rare books.

Anyway I suspect we might work together on something Koha related in the future especially since they have just decided to convert to Koha!  She is particularly interested in interface useability and a complaint that came up repeatedly in India was the acquisitions module so it might be that the expert eye of a critical friend could be applied to see what needs to be done to meet the need of the ever increasing Koha Indian community .

Tata Institute of Social Sciences

Part of the reason for this trip is to replenish my soul after a really tough 3 years pulling off the impossible. Today I spoke with the Masters Students and staff at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. It was wonderful. The format was an interview which Kirti led but then questions and comments came from the floor. I started the ball rolling with the key themes I'd spoken about in Pune and it was so radical compared to public libraries in India now. These guys may just start a revolution! The Institute runs Koha - all 4 campuses throughout India as branches - and while Amit Gupta and his crew did the data conversion they basically run it themselves now. The students are taught about Koha including installation and configuration! This is because many of them will go back to rural areas and will probably use Koha. I think someone said that the Indian Government are encoraging the use of open source software but I'd need someone to confirm that. If so, then Koha could explode into India very quickly.


At every session I needed to remind people that there is no boss of Koha, no board, no staff, no one in charge. Everyone has a voice and the ability to contribute. If they want an interface or user manual in Marathi then they have to translate that themselves. If they need / want something in acquisitions changed then they need to load a bug. In short: scratch your own itch.

These Guys

Finally, I have to acknowledge and thank these guys who trekked back and forwards on the Pune - Mumbai expressway (a 4 hour trip) and arranged a full programme of meet and greets and booked fab hotels for me and looked after my every wish and even took me shopping (see the Punjabi suit I'm wearing - so comfy in the hot climate). The hospitality was exceptional.

Thank you Ketan, Vikram, Kirti and Hermant.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pune University - MLIS Students

I spoke yesterday to the Library Science Masters students at Pune University about what I think are the key themes of public librarianship and also about career management. This is the framework of that talk and yes - the post is out of order but I wanted to get this structure up while its still fresh.

Who am I

  • One of the librarians who worked on developing Koha 1.0
  • A librarian - not a developer
  • A perpetual student

Key Themes as I see them

  • Public servants: service, know your community / audience, tailor for that community, meet their needs but also inspire and delight
  • Connections and collections are important: 3rd place, living room of the town, sanctuary, events
  • Creation and consumption: not just taking content eg books but creating too eg makerspaces, 3D printers, digitisation and recording tools
  • Onsite and online: should be equally quality experiences
  • Lifelong learning: print and digital literacies
  • Partnerships and participation: works in collaboration with others, doing things with community not to or for them, help others achieve their goals
  • Telling our story: promotion and marketing crucial, to public and to funders,

Career management

  • Qualification is just the first step
  • Be strategic
  • Take responsibility for own PD: blogs, twitter, webinars, MOOCs, online universities are all free
  • THis is an international profession; connect, share, engage in conversations with librarisn from around the world
  • Work out why you are here; what is your personal philosphy of librarianship.
  • Mine: to make the world a better place, to change lives, ripple effect of positively having an impact on just 1 person
PS I also talked about most of this while in Mumbai at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.